House Passes Head Start Reauthorization Bill

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Most Head Start classroom teachers would be required to earn an associate's or a bachelor's degree by 2003 under a bill that extends the program for five years.

The bill passed the House 346-20 last week after just 20 minutes on the floor. It places increased emphasis on literacy skills and school readiness in an effort to keep the 33-year-old preschool program for poor children from taking "a slow drift toward federal day care," said Jay Diskey, a spokesman for the Republicans on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

At a Glance:
Head Start Bill in the House

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Synopsis: The bill to renew the federal preschool program for five years would authorize a 7 percent increase in its budget, to $4.66 billion in FY 1999, strengthen Head Start's educational component by adding new standards for what children should be learning, and require most teachers to have a college education by 2003. The Department of Health and Human Services would be required to develop performance measures that could be applied to local programs, and grantees would be allowed to serve more working families. Funding authorization for Early Head Start, which serves infants and toddlers, would be increased.

Last action: The House passed the bill, 346-20, on Sept. 14.

Next action: The bill will go to a conference committee with the Senate, which passed a Head Start reauthorization bill in July.

Absent from the bill are two controversial amendments, sponsored by Rep. Frank Riggs, R-Calif., that would have required single mothers on welfare to cooperate in establishing the paternity of their children in order for them to take part in Head Start and would have allowed parents to receive vouchers--or "certificates"--to enroll their children in non-Head Start programs if their Head Start grantee lost federal funding.

"Mr. Riggs had his contentions, but we haven't heard them from other members," Mr. Diskey said.

Committee Republicans had sought to exempt Head Start providers from the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act, which requires contractors doing federal construction jobs to pay workers the prevailing local wage. The exemption would have allowed some local Head Start grantees to save money.

But committee Chairman Bill Goodling, R-Pa., didn't want Head Start tied up in partisan debates over labor law and welfare reform, Mr. Diskey said.

Mr. Riggs agreed to support the revised version of the bill in exchange for a letter from the Alexandria, Va.-based National Head Start Association stating the group's support of Mr. Goodling's bill. The association has backed the bill in an effort to move the reauthorization process along, but it says it does not support some aspects of the House version--namely, a plan to set aside $5 million for 100 family-literacy demonstration projects and the bill's new "performance measures" for children.

Family literacy is already a focus of Head Start, said Townley Hritz, the NHSA's associate director of government affairs. And the performance measures are too prescriptive, she said. They would, for example, require children to identify at least 10 letters of the alphabet by the time they leave the program.

Similarities to Senate Bill

Goodling's House substitute measure is an amended version of the bill that passed the full Senate in late July. Both include plans to conduct more research on the effectiveness of Head Start, as well as provisions that would allow the program to offer working families more full-day programs by teaming up with child-care providers.

Both also authorize an increase in funding for Early Head Start, which serves infants and toddlers, from 5 percent to 10 percent of the total allotted for Head Start.

But the Senate version includes a provision that would allow for-profit child-care centers to compete for grants with the nonprofit community agencies that run Head Start centers if local grantees lost federal funding.

A conference committee will now try to strike a balance between the Senate bill and the version that passed the House.

While the Clinton administration strongly opposed Mr.Riggs' amendments, it's unclear whether it will lodge similarobjections to Mr. Goodling's version, which emphasizes quality over quantity.

President Clinton's goal is to boost program enrollment from its present level of about 830,000 children to 1 million by 2002.

To improve training for Head Start teachers and attract ones with higher levels of education, the House version includes a formula that would set aside 65 percent of all new funds for quality improvements--practically the opposite of the current law, which allows 75 percent of new money to be used for expansion of the program.

The percentage of funding allotted for teacher quality, however, would gradually drop to 25 percent by 2003.

If that provision is included in the reauthorization, local grantees would quickly notice more emphasis on professional development, Ms. Hritz said. She added that a lot of local programs already have teachers with two- and four-year degrees. "It's a matter of the rest of them catching up," she said.

The House version would also, for the first time, allow local grantees to put 10 percent of new money toward goals that are unique to their programs.

Vol. 18, Issue 3, Page 22

Published in Print: September 23, 1998, as House Passes Head Start Reauthorization Bill
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